Reflections on Becoming an Ecopsychologist
by Dr. Renée G. Soule
When I was young, a terrible question interrupted my pre-medical studies: “What does it mean to be a healer in the context of our times?” I was in utter despair about environmental destruction—and had not yet met Joanna Macy. I saw myself as a cancer afflicting a vibrant living planet. Being human harmed. Even becoming a medical doctor or radical activist did not offer true paths of healing and redemption. I was lost, depressed, and afflicted by paralyzing ecological shame. Clearly, I needed an ecopsychologist!
Over many years, I have become the doctor that I needed. Working in wilderness settings, I caught glimpses of the true power of being human. Humans can be a scourge upon the earth. And we can be medicine. One who can harm can also heal. Our deepest nature is wild, wholesome, and beneficial. I, like every human, carry, and can become, unique medicine.
Seeking one’s unique medicine is integral to ecopsychology and has been one of my main tasks in life. I, like everyone, am the result of millions of years of evolution. I am life’s answer to challenges and invitations. In moments of doubt, I remember what John Seed once said, “Look at your pedigree!” Self-esteem and confidence are rooted here.
I have learned about deep ecological belonging in diverse places. Sleeping under the opens stars for many years was a powerful path of learning—and most of the time I was sleeping! I learn as much about the ecological Self in prison as I do in wild nature. Working in San Quentin Prison for over a decade has been an important ground of ecopsychological training for me. With a special kind of ripening, even under the most adverse conditions, we can all be beneficial forces of life. Belonging does not depend on special or privileged conditions. Sometimes under duress is where deeper identity is discovered and cultivated. As Michael Meade says, crises calls forth genius and one’s unique gifts in life.
Healing in the context of our times means to become one’s unique medicine. For me, this is a path of ongoing ecological initiation. There is no particular path to becoming an ecopsychologist, except to follow one’s quirky fascinations. First, be clear about your intention: To become a healer, teacher, therapist, doctor, businessperson, parent, (whatever!) in the context of our times. Then follow your bliss or your suffering—either one. Once you are rooted in your wild essential core and aligned with the power of nature, there is no wrong path.